Stalinist tactics in software anti-piracy campaign

                   Joseph Stalin -- patron saint of  software "anti-piracy" gulag

As a little boy growing up in 1950s California, I learned all about the evils of Communism, especially those perpetrated by the arch enemy of the "free world," the U.S.S.R.   Although there were many features of the Soviet system that my teachers and the media identified as horrifying, there was one that always stuck in my mind -- the "fact" that people in the Soviet Union were encouraged -- encouraged! -- to turn in any neighbors, colleagues at work or family members who were violating the principles of Communism in any way.  Even little children, I was told, were expected to rat on their parents if they suspected them of any transgression from Soviet principles.  "What a horrible system," I thought to myself, "asking family members to betray their relatives." 

Memories of those lessons returned to me today as I heard a radio advertisement advising listeners to be vigilant against the dread menace of "software piracy."  While I don't have the exact text of the ad, the gist of it was that employees should inform on any employer whom they believed to be using illegally copied software in the workplace.  As reward for ratting on their boss, the ad promised a handsome cash reward.  

Afterward I tracked down the sponsor of the campaign, the Business Software Alliance.   Its web page describes the purposes and methods of this ambitious program. 

"Software audit defense firm, Scott & Scott, LLP, reports that the Business Software Alliance (BSA) has been increasing the number of radio ads encouraging confidential reporting of software piracy for a potential cash reward. Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco areas in particular are hearing more anti-piracy ads.

"The Business Sofware Alliance (BSA) is a global software industry group owned and funded by big name companies, including Adobe, Microsoft, Autodesk and Symantec.

"The BSA has been aggressively marketing financial incentives to disgruntled employees to make anonymous software piracy tips against their employers with reward payments. Based on the number of radio ads in September, Los Angeles. #1, Chicago #2, New York #3, San Francisco #4, and Dallas #5 targeted markets, in their national “whistleblower” radio campaign according to statistics provided by AdScope."
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What an opportunity to earn some extra cash!  Not only can I enjoy spying on my colleagues in various firms and on university campuses, but I can also refresh some cherished childhood memories.  All that talk about the paranoia and cultural repression imposed by Joseph Stalin will no longer be just an abstraction, but a living part of everyday life.  

Oh, thank you, Business Software Alliance, for reviving this crucial part of modern political culture -- terror, surveillance, betrayal of friends and family, and the renewed affirmation of what truly matters -- the rights of private property over everything else!


Small robot drone for monitoring political demonstrations

At a robotics industry trade show in Washington, D.C. recently one of the corporate vendors, AEE Technology based in Shenzhen, China, unveiled its small drone aircraft, the F50, advertised to be  especially good "as a tool for monitoring protests."

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the device is "about the size of a pizza pan" and shows "the burgeoning international competition in the market for unmanned aerial vehicles and military robots." 

Although a drone for watching people who gather in public to express their views  may seem ominous defenders of free speech, the drift of opinion at the show had a more upbeat, market oriented slant.  Thus, P.W. Singer, author of the book Wired for War, observed, "The market for military robotics has gone global, and China is looking to be a major producer and exporter in that market, just like the U.S."

To my way of thinking, Singer's statement  is a good example of how an academic can become a flack for the arms industry.  Indeed, at a conference I attended this summer, Singer enthusiastically regaled an audience of philosophers with news of  the burgeoning field of "killer apps" in the robotic arms race, and then asked the crowd to ponder "the ethical implications" of these things.  How uplifting.

The road to slaughter and, now, police surveillance is paved by very clever, well paid intellectuals with seemingly noble intentions.  From the WSJ  story: "Michael O'Hanlon, a defense expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said China's interest in developing unmanned aircraft as a tool for policing crowds or responding to emergencies was 'totally understandable, and legitimate.'"

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From now on a new dimension -- one might even call it an "innovation" -- will be added to attempts to exercise the right of free speech and assembly worldwide -- fear of drone aircraft hovering overhead.